Scientific Controversy on the Web

Of course, there are plenty of websites and web pages discussing and debating scientific controversy. But two groups of scientists have recently created websites taking sides on one specific question: should scientists have free rein to study dangerous diseases?

The question arises as several events show up in the news nearly simultaneously. A deadlier strain of bird flu was developed in a lab. The Ebola virus spreads from one country to another. And a vial of smallpox was found in an old refrigerator. The concatenation of circumstances has made people wonder whether studying diseases is such a hot idea.

We’re not going to discuss the controversy here (though it’s a fascinating one). We just want to look at their websites. NPR news this morning remarked that each side of the question had put up a website, which is a very sensible thing to do if you have an issue you want to push.

So, if we imagine that each side has made a website with the intention of reaching and influencing as many people as possible with a view to changing a law, how do their websites compare? Which of them is best placed to reach their goal?

The first point is that it is not easy to find these websites. It is possible that we don’t have the ones NPR was mentioning. Let us know in the comments if we’ve made an error. But if we have chosen the correct websites, it wasn’t because Google offered them to us. We found news reports that linked to the sites. We were not able to find either site by looking for information on the issue.

Still, they’re new.  Both sites are just about one month old. It takes time to show up well in search. How are they for potential?

If we’re right, this is the website for Scientists for Science, the group that favors freedom to research pathogens freely.

scientists-for-science

What you see here is what you get. The site has only one page, no navigation, no colors, no images, just the manifesto as seen above, a list of supporters’ names, a sign up form, and links to support the effort on social media.

Scientists for Science say, “We expect that www.scientistsforscience.org will be a forum for deliberation among SfS members,” but they have not as yet made a forum or indeed any way for anyone to post so much as a comment on their website.

The opposition, we think, is the Cambridge Working Group.

cambridgeworkinggroup

This group knows HTML (the first group could certainly have built their page by googling “how do I make a web page?”) and they might have had a bit more time to work on their website. They have their manifesto, multiple translations, and additional pages containing links to articles. They have some colors, too, and a social sharing button with an icon.

How do the two sites stack up?

  • Both sites are fully indexed by Google (Scientists for Science only has one page, so they are fully indexed as far as we can tell). With 18 pages, the Cambridge Working Group is the winner here — but 18 pages is still a small website.
  • Both sites appear to have web analytics installed. With analytics, they’ll know whether press efforts are sending visitors, they’ll be able to see which universities and research institutions are visiting, and they’ll have an idea of which language they need to translate into. Both are winners here.
  • Neither site has optimized for mobile, though the Scientists for Science site is simple enough that it probably doesn’t matter. They’re very narrowly the winner for this item.
  • Neither site has been very thoughtful about meta descriptions, site maps, or other technical SEO matters.
  • Calls to action are above the fold on the Cambridge Working Group site, but they are way down at the bottom on the Scientists for Science website. Cambridge Working Group wins on this point.
  • The Cambridge Working Group has a Twitter account where they are sharing a running total of the signatures they gain. Science for Scientists isn’t sharing their social media if they have any. Cambridge Working Group wins again.

While the Cambridge Working Group would be the winner at this point, Scientists for Science doesn’t have too far to go to catch up.


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